Commentary

Sorry, but football isn't life

Updated: September 8, 2009, 7:21 PM ET
By Jemele Hill | Page 2

If what a collection of current and former Michigan players say is true, Rich Rodriguez has confused playing college football with working on an assembly line.

Rodriguez's guilt or innocence ultimately will be decided by the NCAA and his university, but most of us shouldn't be surprised that a college football coach would circumvent the NCAA rules on practice limits and offseason workouts.

But what these Michigan players -- and some of their parents -- are alleging against Rodriguez goes far beyond a little extra work.

We're not talking about just PRACTICE (cue the Allen Iverson voice), but allegations that include spending at least nine hours on football on the Sundays after games last season, which is five hours above what the NCAA allows.

Not surprisingly, a bevy of former Michigan players and even some college football analysts have eagerly defended Rodriguez and the U of M program. And as expected, a few of them -- as well as plenty of college football fans -- have directed harsh words at the players for telling the Detroit Free Press that Rodriguez was pushing them a little too hard.

So I guess that means a lot of us are completely comfortable with the idea of a college football program operating like a pro one -- even if it's possible that it's at the expense of education.

When in doubt, blame the whistle-blowers -- that's the American way. Of course, it's fair to suggest that those players who went to the newspaper with their complaints about Rodriguez did so out of some twisted sense of retribution, but that doesn't change the fact that the reaction to the Rodriguez scandal only fosters and encourages this win-at-all cost culture.

Not to mention the obvious hypocrisies. The people who are calling the Michigan players soft and whiny are likely the same ones who stand on a soapbox and extol the virtues of college football players making education a high priority.

Those same people who think Michigan players need to shut up and be grateful for their scholarships will also rip players when they're academically ineligible, or rip the program when the team's GPA isn't up to NCAA standards.

The reason the NCAA has offseason guidelines and limits in-season practices is so college athletes can balance academics and sports.

If left to their own devices, college coaches would run their programs like the New England Patriots, and most of their players -- who are so infatuated with the NFL dream and desperate to please their coaches -- would leave college without having learned a thing.

So a line has to be drawn.

"The difficult thing in discussions like this is that kids want to be good," Ohio State coach Jim Tressel said on Tuesday during the Big Ten's weekly teleconference. "There are times when I lock the doors to get them the heck out of here."

If you think it's OK for college football players to put in 50- to 60-hour work weeks, then you also shouldn't have a problem with them getting paid.

Yeah, I know, a lot of you don't even want to go there.

But before you start piping up about scholarships being appropriate payment, it's safe to say Tim Tebow has earned 30 times more money for Florida than what his scholarship is worth.

It wasn't long ago that Stanford coach Jim Harbaugh was blasted by Michigan fans for the brutally honest comments he made about how Michigan steers football players toward less-than-challenging coursework. And once their playing days are done, these players aren't equipped to handle the real world.

"Michigan is a good school and I got a good education there," Harbaugh said. "But the athletic department has ways to get borderline guys in and, when they're in, they steer them to courses in sports communications. They're adulated when they're playing, but when they get out, the people who adulated them won't hire them."

That's real talk -- the kind you won't hear from most coaches.

Speaking of which: I interviewed former Florida State safety Myron Rolle in January, and I was stunned to learn that his defensive coordinator, Mickey Andrews, sometimes criticized him for spending too much time on his books and not enough time prepping for the football field.

Rolle was a third team All-American and second team All-ACC, but he delayed entering the NFL draft until 2010 so he could spend a year at Oxford as part of the Rhodes Scholarship. He passed up millions because he wanted to further his dream of being a neurosurgeon.

Not every college athlete wants to spend every moment with a football. We just have to stop acting like that's a bad thing.

Jemele Hill can be reached at jemeleespn@gmail.com

Jemele Hill | email

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